PHOENIX - Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano hasn't said whether she'd signed a wide-ranging immigration bill approved by the Legislature, but lawmakers on both sides of the debate predicted a veto.
The bill would criminalize the presence of illegal immigrants in the state and provide $160 million to help authorities lessen Arizona's role as the nation's busiest illicit entry point.
It also would set fines for businesses that continue to employ illegal immigrants after being warned about it, require local police agencies to train officers in enforcing immigration law and deny three education benefits to immigrants.
Democratic Rep. Ben Miranda of Phoenix voted against the bill Thursday and described it as a charade that gave opponents and supporters the opportunity to take a stand while knowing that it would never make it past the governor.
"We know this will not become law, so it's safe to vote for this," Miranda said.
Republican Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, the driving force behind the proposal, said the governor should sign the bill because the public wants immediate action on the state's border woes, but that her past vetoes on immigration bills don't bode well.
"She sounds tough but vetoes everything to come her way, always finds another reason," Pearce said.
Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer declined to say whether the governor would veto the bill, but said the Legislature keeps trying to resurrect unrealistic ideas.
"It doesn't actually advance the conversation," said L'Ecuyer, who released letters from officials in Arizona's four border counties who urged the governor to veto the bill.
The plan would resurrect a proposal to criminalize the presence of illegal immigrants by expanding the state's trespassing law to let local authorities arrest those who sneak into the country.
Napolitano vetoed that measure last month, siding with police agencies that wanted immigration arrests to remain the responsibility of the federal government and complained that the duty would be a huge drag on their budgets.
It would make a first offense a top-tier misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. Subsequent offenses would be a felony carrying a sentence of at least three years in prison.
The funding element of the plan was a response to complaints that the Legislature's last immigration fix - an immigrant smuggling law - dumped a daunting new duty on local communities without giving them additional money.
The funding would include $54 million for communities for arresting and detaining illegal immigrants and nearly $29 million for border efforts by state police.
Another $50 million, to be distributed over two years, would go toward radars to help spot illegal border-crossers. Authorities would get another $2 million to crack down on illegal hirings.
Many lawmakers blame employers for fueling the problem by hiring illegal immigrants, who account for an estimated one in 10 workers in the Arizona economy.
The bill would require businesses to fire employees whose Social Security numbers are invalid. Illegal immigrants frequently use forgeries to meet federal employment eligibility requirements.
The plan would let state prosecutors seek civil penalties as high as $5,000 and the suspension or revocation of business licenses if an employer under investigation fails to stop employing illegal immigrants.
Some lawmakers said local police need to confront illegal immigration because the federal government has done a poor job of securing Arizona's porous border with Mexico.
The bill would require local police to get training in immigration law and sign agreements with the federal government to let local officers investigate and arrest illegal immigrants.
Many police officials have resisted efforts to enforce immigration law, saying it would detract from their traditional roles in investigating thefts, assaults and other crimes and would jeopardize the trust they have built in immigrant communities.
The plan also would prohibit illegal immigrants from attending adult education classes and receiving cheaper in-state tuition and financial assistance at the state's public universities and community colleges.
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